The way Sharae Sanchez sees it, a bright future for her son won’t just happen. It takes work, she said, and lots of planning ahead.
A mom at the Gallivan Boulevard housing development working two jobs, she’s enrolled her son Lamarri in after-school programs and youth sports leagues. Wary of violence, crime and bad influences, she keeps a tight watch on him when he plays outside. Lamarri’s been on the wait list for METCO, a program that buses inner-city kids to suburban schools, since his first birthday.
And even though he’s only 7, she said she’s always talking with Lamarri about college.
“I really want him to be something,” she said. “And I know he’s going to, but I just feel like it all starts at home. I wasn’t lucky enough to have that and I just really want him to understand this is a choice you have to make and you have to start now.”
So Sanchez joined more than a dozen neighborhood parents when she signed Lamarri up for a new college mentorship program run by Big Brothers Big Sisters this year, designed to put Gallivan kids face-to-face with privilege and possibility far from home.
Twice a week, Lamarri and 17 peers, ages 7-12, will shuttle back and forth to Babson College, the elite private business school in Wellesley. They’ll meet with mentors from Babson and Olin colleges, complete learning activities, play board games. And in the process of walking the school’s pristine grounds and hanging out with students bound for high-powered careers, organizers and moms and dads hope they’ll dream of diplomas.
“It helps introduce them to the world of college,” said Richard Greif, a 1990 Babson alum and a Big Brothers Big Sisters vice president who, after college, mentored a “Little Brother” non unlike Lamarri for 9 years. “The first step is just opening up the possibility that this is something they could do, that it’s achievable.”
Greif said he worked with Babson to build the collaboration to spur contact between his alma mater and young people in a place where it’s hard to get via public transit and the wait list for mentors is long.
Many of the youth taking part — part of the 2,100 Little Brothers and Little Sisters on the Mass. Bay-region’s roster — would be first in their family to go to college. Time spent with someone who’s already there, he said, can help.
Lamarri’s mentor is John Teschek, a 19-year-old Babson sophomore and fraternity brother who grew up working for a successful family business in athletics.
Lamarri likes basketball, so for their first meet-up he and Teschek played basketball. Last week, Teschek and a friend took Lamarri to Sky Zone, the trampoline emporium. Then they went to Papa Gino’s.
Being a Big Brother is that simple, Teschek said - it doesn’t mean giving speeches about the value of education or being a perfect role model.
“Consistently hang out with these kids,” he said. “If you can manage that, the rest will sort of come with it.”
It costs about $46,000 a year to go to Babson. Teschek and Lamarri live different lives.
But ever since the two of them took turns shooting 3-pointers on mini basketball hoop in Lamarris’ room, Teschek said, they just seemed to connect.
“Lamarri and I get along pretty well,” he said. “I’m excited to see where it goes.”
The Gallivan-Babson cooperation is the latest from the Boston region’s Big Brothers Big Sisters – a similar program connects Boston College and the Franklin Field development in Dorchester, and a partnership with Endicott College is scheduled to launch this winter, according to Greif. The BBBSM brings students from 10 area colleges to meet with students in middle and elementary schools, Greif said. He hopes to add two more campuses to the program every year.
Tapping Boston-area colleges for mentors can be a “win-win situation,” said Cynthia Lewis, lead organizer for the nonprofit Mattapan United, who said she’s currently working with Northeastern University grad students to start a youth advocacy program.
“Anytime we can bring positive energy to our community,” she said, “I think it’s a wonderful thing.”